‘Two weeks of hell:’ Ex-Nebraska football star shares story of coach's first winter

Former Nebraska football safety Ben Eisenhart shared a story on social media about the first winter under Bill Callahan.
Nebraska Cornhuskers safety (46) Ben Eisenhart celebrates with teammates
Nebraska Cornhuskers safety (46) Ben Eisenhart celebrates with teammates / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the ways we can figure out how Nebraska football got to where it is today is to look at what happened in the not too distant past. One former Husker recently took to social media to share a story about his first year with the program. That also happened to be former head coach Bill Callahan’s first year in Lincoln.

Former Nebraska football safety Ben Eisenhart posted what he called “story time” about the first winter conditioning under Callahan on Twitter. In describing it, he said that he and his former teammates still get a pit in their stomach when they talk about “two weeks of hell.”

“When Callahan took the job he told us in his first meeting that there wasn’t going to be 180 guys on the team,” Eisenhart wrote. “Said it just wasn’t manageable. In the first 2 months of Winter Conditioning, 15-20 guys were cut, but the goal number was around 120-125.”

In other words, Callahan’s plan to make life miserable for Nebraska football players was working, but not quickly enough. According to the former defensive back, that’s when the “two weeks of hell” came into being.

“It was basically the worst conditioning drills you could think of. 5am in the morning, which is whatever BUT you had to be taped before hand. So we are talking a 4am wake up call and then basically running until you puked and then still required to go to class. Well it worked.”

Former Nebraska football player describes Bill Callahan’s ‘two weeks of hell’

Eisenhart said that when the “two weeks of hell” was over, 30-35 people had quit the Nebraska football program. Callahan had his more manageable roster. He managed that roster to a 5-7 record. The first losing record the program had since Bob Devaney.

These days, the program is far too used to a losing season, but it’s important to remember how incredibly unusual it was for the culture back in 2004. 

Contrasting to Tom Osborne

Callahan posting a losing season (something Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne never did) wasn’t the only contrast in how he did things to Osborne. Not long after Eisenhart posted his story, former Husker offensive line great Rob Zatechka joined the Twitter thread.

“Every winter,” Zatcehka wrote. “Osborne did the same: basically weeks upon weeks of brutal, vomit-inducing running, lifting. All in an effort to get guys to bail and trim the roster. We had a team pact that no one would ever quit. No one ever did. That’s why the roster was so big in the ‘90’s.”

When Eisenhart responded that he never knew such a thing happened under Zatechka responded, “Dude, Ben. I’m totally joking. Osborne would’ve never done that.”

All of this is to say that when people talk about coaches like Bill Callahan never really understanding the culture of Nebraska football, it’s stories like this that underline those claims. The good news today is that by all accounts, Matt Rhule both understands and loves the Nebraska football culture—maybe more than any of the guys that have come along post-Frank Solich.